Life has changed for Matthias Mayer after he streaked to Austria’s first men’s downhill gold in over a decade at last year’s Sochi Olympics.
No more shuffling around unrecognised, no hiding place for “Mothl”, as he is nicknamed, who had never won a major trophy or even a World Cup race before travelling to Sochi.
Almost 1.5 million Austrians, in a country of 8.4 million, were glued to their televisions to watch his victory in Russia and jubilant headlines gushed about “Golden Mayer” and the “Gold hero” immediately afterwards.
But Mayer hinted after Thursday’s second training run for Saturday’s Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuehel that victory in the most prestigious, and dangerous, World Cup race could edge Olympic gold.
“In Austria, you’re a legend when you win this race so every skier tries to win it,” he said.
“It’s the history. I remember when I was young, I saw skiers crashing on the television, victories and unbelievable runs: it’s in the Austrians’ brains so we try to be faster.
“I’m so happy to be Olympic champion but my dream is to win this race, yes of course.”
Mayer finished the final training run down the testing 3.3-kilometre-long “Streif” piste in joint third place alongside Swiss veteran (and 2009 winner) Didier Defago.
Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud set the pace with 1min 54.71sec, ahead of Italy’s Christof Innerhofer, 0.20sec adrift.
Teammate and last year’s winner Hannes Reichelt finished seventh.
“There are a lot of favourites, but I’ll try to be fast and be on the podium,” vowed Mayer.
“Hannes won last week and we had five podiums in the speed races, Hannes and me together, so (the start to the season) wasn’t that bad really.”
Mayer admitted that he had had to come to terms with his celebrity status.
“It changed, I can really say that,” he said of life post-Sochi. “At first I didn’t think about it.
“But in summer it was a new situation for me because everywhere I went in Austria everyone knew me, so a little bit different than before!
“Sometimes it was difficult, but now I’m good with that.”
Turning back to the notoriously tough downhill, Mayer said: “Of course, there’s a little bit of respect, especially in the first training run when you’re not 100 percent at the start so it’s sometimes a little bit dangerous.
“Downhill is fast, there’s a lot of risk, it’s perfect to watch on the television. You see the people crashing, the people winning, that’s what we want to see.”
American Bode Miller, twice runner-up in the Kitzbuehel downhill, came in sixth in the training run just eight weeks after back surgery and hailed the course he so loves for its technical and physical challenges.
“It’s an amazing course, it’s a pleasure to run it even if I can’t go 100 percent the whole way. It’s such a test of your skill, balance and confidence,” said the 37-year-old.
“We’d all run it without timing and prizes, it’s just a pleasure. But to go 100 percent and milk every hundredth out of it, that’s where you start really taking risks.”